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The Gallery of Regrettable Food: Highlights from Classic American Recipe Books

4.13  ·  Rating Details ·  1,464 Ratings  ·  163 Reviews

This is not a cookbook. You'll find no tongue-tempting treats within -- unless, of course, you consider Boiled Cow Elbow with Plaid Sauce to be your idea of a tasty meal. No, The Gallery of Regrettable Food is a public service. Learn to identify these dishes. Learn to regard shivering liver molds with suspicion. Learn why curries are a Communist plot to undermine
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published September 11th 2001 by Clarkson Potter
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Best Humorous Books
473rd out of 3,234 books — 6,369 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,899)
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May 20, 2016 Melki rated it it was amazing
The best damned diet book I've ever read!

If gazing at the photo of the Beet Pie Casserole doesn't put you off your feed, try reading all about the Creamed Brains on Toast OR the Tongue Rolls Florentine.

Traditional Pineapple-Carrot Salad, made with vinegar to make it extra . . . vinegary.

YUMMY! Makes my tummy rumble, but not in a good way...

Mmm . . . Face Steak

Crammed full of color photos of the least appetizing appetizers, most mysterious entrees, and unheavenly desserts (who knew it was so e
Sep 15, 2007 Tamara rated it really liked it
I don't often laugh out loud with a book, but I did with this one! It provided a great leisurely Friday night with some friends on the couch, reading aloud the witty commentary on 50's cookbooks.

I was quite shocked (with all of the biting feminist-style remarks about men) that this book was written by a very enlightened man named James Lileks. Go James!

I love food fads!

Some of my MANY favorite quotes:

"Perhaps there are situations where you are happy to be served this supper. Perhaps there's a
Jul 19, 2008 Lori rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Retro People, humorists, foodies, pop culture mavens
Shelves: retro, pop-culture
My husband thought I was having a psychotic meltdown when I read this. I really sat in bed all night howling...tears streaming down as I toured the horrors of mid-twentieth century American cuisine. i read it cover to cover in one sitting and was left gasping -- thoroughly spent from the convulsive guffaws.

You want tuna in aspic? Check. How about those pigs-in-a-blanket? No problem. The "joys of jello"? Got that too.

This is not to be described. Just hilarious altogether. I want to start an enti
Mar 23, 2016 mingfrommongo rated it liked it
I know I'm supposed to laugh, but far too many of the "dishes" here look familiar in a bad-flashback kind of way. I am certain that my mother owned and used the cookbooks used as references by Mr. Lileks. Some of the illustrations included in the Gallery appear to be black-and-white, but trust me, they are not. I grew up eating an awful lot of grey food that looked just like the pictures. It was odd that the more "time-saving" a recipe was, the more upset my mother was with a lukewarm reception. ...more
Aug 21, 2007 David rated it really liked it
I *love* James Lileks. Though I hesitate to say so on a site dedicated to books, his website may be a better way to appreciate his full hilarious awesomeness-

Come on, Nazi grandma alone is worth the price of admission.
Or the "computers through time" series.

Get in touch with your inner snerk. Support this man! Visit his site. Somewhere in there waiting for you is that bizarre Wisconsin motel. And many other gems. It's a gen-u-wine laff-riot. And I am not o
King Ævil
Mar 21, 2016 King Ævil rated it it was amazing
Shelves: humor, 2009
An astonishing look at mid-20th-century American cuisine as depicted in classic cookbooks, with side-splitting commentary by columnist James Lileks. Lurid concoctions from an age when lard was considered a vitamin and spice, a deadly poison, will stir your gorge and permanently banish your appetite. Recoil in disgust from graphic illustrations of creamed brains on toast, radishes entombed in olive-flavored Jell-O, desserts whose defining flavor is Heinz Ketchup, and other horrors too numerous to ...more
Danielle Long
Apr 22, 2014 Danielle Long rated it it was amazing
I got this book yesterday and started reading/looking at on my lunch break. WARNING!!!!! DON'T LOOK AT THIS BOOK ON YOUR LUNCH BREAK. Old pictures of food concoctions from cookbooks and magazines from the 60s and 70s. Made my stomach flipped and made me gag! However I did get a laugh at all the crazy food creations. Some of these creations were made to ward some guests away. A "How to"... to better sex, getting rid of the annoying relative and so on.

Thanks Brianna for recommending this book. I r
Dec 20, 2009 Toni rated it did not like it
This reminded me of the typical high school or college geek trying to be funny. A bit of sarcasm can be funny, but an entire book of it is just annoying. Thank heavens I had only borrowed it from the library--I'd have hated to waste money on this.
I got this book thinking I'd get a whole slew of recipes that should never have been, but alas, what I got was a guy writing snarky and mean-spirited remarks about the foods and advertisements of the time. Does he really think that, for instance, putting ketchup into an ice cream sauce, would be tried by any housewife of that time by simply mooing ahead with the pack to produce these inedible results? That is the impression I got from reading what I did of this ridiculous book.

And when attacking
I enjoyed the vintage ads.
The pictures of food made me never want to eat again. Savory Jello? Who came up with that?
I came across this lady ( while searching for savory jello recipes. She is doing some interesting things, culinarily.
Lots of great historical information, too. I learned some stuff.
I think everyone alive should see this book.
Jul 08, 2013 Sabra rated it really liked it
I choked on my own spit when I read a caption that included the phrase "banana-placenta sauce." Really gross, really funny.
Feb 18, 2016 Melissa rated it liked it
Shelves: humor
Amusing but some of the pictures made me nauseous and lose my appetite.
Sep 09, 2015 Donna rated it really liked it
he is one the most entertaining writer I know
Jun 18, 2012 Susan rated it liked it
VERY funny.
Thanks , Cousin . :)
May 02, 2016 Harris rated it liked it
Recently, there has been a spate of some quite funny articles and videos online of people cooking and forcing themselves to eat some of the rather... inspired creations of mid-century American culinary arts; starchy, glistening, ill flavored blends of meats, gelatins, and overcooked vegetables in which pepper was considered too spicy. It is funny, then, that humorist James Lileks was showcasing the horrors of "classic" American cookery on the internet more than a decade ago, with his Gallery of ...more
Mar 02, 2015 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: stephanie
Recommended to Jennifer by: saw on steph's friend's list
Shelves: non-fiction
Wow! What a fun book. Humorous from beginning to end, I especially enjoyed the jell-o section. Who knew you could put hot dogs, cauliflower, green peppers, cucumber and fish in jell-O and call it lunch? Oh boy, I have so many recipe ideas now! HAHAHA!
Seriously, I remember eating orange jell-o with shredded carrots in it at a church pot-luck as a kid. What the heck were these people thinking? At least I never had to eat jell-o with hot dogs in it.

The book has great photos & humorous commenta
S. J.
Jun 19, 2013 S. J. rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of the Author
Recommended to S. by: Husband
*3.3 Stars*

Scorecard: (Out of 10)
* Quality of Writing - 5
* Pace - 4
* Plot development - N/A
* Characters - 7
* Enjoyability - 5
* Insightfulness - 6
* Ease of Reading - 7
* Photos/Illustrations - 6
Final Score: 40/70 = 57%


If pictures like the above leave you queasy, this is not the book for you. (I can barely look at this.)

*The Gush and Rant*

As I talked about in my review of Interior Desecrations, I have long enjoyed Lileks' website and spent many happy hours laughing until I couldn't ta
Jul 04, 2013 Kathleen rated it did not like it
So this book looks like it would be awesomely funny; sadly, I do not find it so. I was looking forward to a book that dissected our hilarious food history with salad molds and silly canned meat casseroles, but instead, this heaps pile after pile of bitterness on the buffet table of our parents' generation. There really doesn't seem to have been much skill involved in creating this book, either. The author took some old cookbooks--some produced for specific products like 7-Up or A-1, others focus ...more
Aug 15, 2014 Christina rated it really liked it
Shelves: humor, history
Based on the website, this book is a humorous look at cookbooks of the 1940s-60s. The commentary is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but mostly mildly amusing. The author points out that even then, people thought some of the marketing was ridiculous and saw company-sponsored cookbooks for what they are--a way to sell more product. Highlights include profiles of the books "How Famous Chefs Use Campfire Marshmallows," A-1's "Cooking for a Man: Tested Recipes to please HIM!," "So You' ...more
Kathy Ferrell
Nov 05, 2012 Kathy Ferrell rated it it was amazing
Shelves: love-these, own-it
Hilarious! I keep this on my cookbook shelf so I can take it out and leave it lying plain sight when I have dinner guests. This and a few more of its ilk, such as "White Trash Cooking", "The Food Stamp Gourmet" and Robert Crumb's "Waiting for Food".

Mr. Lileks has given us a real classic. Chock full of photos gleaned from all manner of publications from about 1972 on back, you will laugh out loud at perfect examples of WHY some women really did BELONG in the work place back then. The abuses that
Nov 18, 2015 Katie rated it did not like it
Although the voice is a bit holier-than-thow, parts are hysterical.....and I even own one of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks! LOL! If housewives really made these dishes, how sad! Thank goodness I am not expected to produce a spread like is on the front cover!

And how much photography has advanced in 60 years!

After finishing: became VERY tiresome. As an indicator of 50's gender and family expectations, the research completed for this book is valuable. However, much of this lifestyle was th
Apr 01, 2013 Shannan rated it really liked it
A thoroughly entertaining book. The book takes cookbooks from the 50's and 60's and shows all the ghastly terrible food photography and commentary. As a child of the 70's and 80's, my mother had many of these types of cookbooks stuffed in the cabinet above the stove. As I learned how to cook as a child, I thumbed through many of these cookbooks and I remember that exact style of food photography. If you were born in this era, you will greatly appreciate the wit and sarcasm of the author. I didn' ...more
Bob H
Nov 27, 2015 Bob H rated it it was amazing
Shelves: social-history
It's the casserole from 20,000 fathoms. It's a hilarious look back at what passed for culinary ambition ca. the 1950s and the 1960s, and any of us who grew up in the Wonder Years will recognize this material from ads of the day, recipe clippings and recipe books that our mothers kept on the refrigerator, and the kinds of processed food that we ate (my God, it took me a decade of adult life to realize that mashed potatoes didn't have to have the uniform consistency of mayonnaise -- i.e., out of a ...more
Mar 20, 2015 Nancy rated it really liked it
That was fun! Having seen many cookbooks from the 1940's through the 1970's growing up, I found this a walk down memory lane. Though the writing style i heavy on the sarcasm for humour it was a lot of fun. The one drawback was that, all too often, the actual name of the dish was not given. I really would have liked to know what some of the things were that I was looking at. While it was funny to look at that pasta thing as "Monkey Brains", I won't go into the Jello mold items, it would have been ...more
Aug 18, 2008 Gloria rated it it was amazing
I have never before seen a food that made my stomach turn in disgust, until now. This book is a collection of pictures, from recipe books, that the author found. The recipe books were published in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. It is unbelievable that anyone, even back then, would look at these pictures and recipes and think, "Huh, that looks delicious. I think I'll make that tonight." and that someone thought these recipes were good enough to publish. Also, the authors commentary adds the perfect amoun ...more
Apr 29, 2016 Katey rated it liked it
Shelves: humour
Americans seemed to have loved disgusting unhealthy food for a long time. Popular recipes now may not include being set in aspic or include more than a few grains of pepper, but the love of processed salty meat with few to no vegetables is the American way!

The 50s were not a swell time, nostalgia fiends.

Also, sometimes the writing accompanying each recipe was too long, like a funny scene in a movie or show that goes on for too long thus rendering itself unfunny. Brevity is indeed the soul of wit
Jul 30, 2012 Martha rated it liked it
This guy took copies of the photos from his mother's 1950's and 1960's cookbooks and displayed them with his own comments. Sections on meat, stuffed with meat and rolled in meat and covered in meat; jello with all kinds of secret food trapped in its clever molds and forms; more ways to fix hotdogs that I ever imagined, or want to for that matter; ketchup in cake, who knew? Disgusting and indigestible. I could lose a lot of weight if this were the only cookbook available!
Sep 14, 2013 Amadeus rated it really liked it
This book is hilarious, especially if you appreciate dry humor. It's hard to believe that anyone ever though 95% of these recipes. On the other hand, it made me step back and realize how much the cookbook/food industry needs modern photography and design to produce successful and appealing books, magazines, etc.

Enjoyable read! Perfect for those times when life is too chaotic to read a novel and funny enough to help you maintain your sanity during those times.
Feb 01, 2014 Anna rated it it was ok
I thought I would enjoy this a lot more, but the author's attempts at humor came across as much more annoying than actually funny. He spends the entire book describing what he thinks pictures in old cookbooks look like--making the descriptions as disgusting as possible--instead of telling us what the food actually IS.

Two stars instead of one because the pictures were fun to look at, especially the meat-stuffed cabbage and hardboiled-egg penguins.
Jan 31, 2014 Melanie rated it really liked it
I loved this book, it was hilarious! My husband kept teasing me because I was laughing out loud; I couldn't help it.
The author makes it very clear in his introduction, that even the housewives of the fifties probably didn't take these cookbooks too seriously. Many were put out by the manufacturer. For example, using world renowned chefs to promote Campfire brand marshmallows.... Not an easy task.
This was a fun, tongue-in-cheek read!
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